Creating a broad outline for your web site

Date: Thu Nov 08 2007
After you've spent awhile brainstorming and mind mapping, the ideas for your web site will begin to gel. The first stage to this is to get broad brush strokes, staying with broad categories of topics and articles. Don't get bogged down early with specific articles and diving into writing right away. There's plenty of time for that later, what's important right now is to get your ship headed in the general direction.

What will happen is you'll have developed several clusters of ideas. Each cluster of ideas is a source of articles to write, or resources to research and list, or whatever else. Further, not all of your ideas will be topics, but instead also methods of presentation. For example podcasting is an upcoming technique, so is that something you will want to do? If so that involves a whole slew of setup, such as getting audio production expertise and equipment.

In each cluster of ideas it might be helpful to list a few sample articles, showing titles and a rough idea of what the article will cover. Remember to stay at a high level and don't get too deep. We're roughing out general ideas at this stage.

Another thing to consider is locating news resources related to your topics. For example I use an RSS aggregator, and connect to feeds from online news sources and blogs related to my topic area. Then every so often I scan through the aggregated content looking for interesting ideas. Those interesting ideas turn into new articles to add to my site. Eventually what will make your site is a continuing stream of new content, and this is one way to get fresh ideas.

There are a few sections which are common in the broad outline of web sites:

  • "About this <site-name>": This is a group of pages describing the purpose of this site, who is running it, copyright statements, etc.
  • Links and resources: This is a list of related web sites or other resources. This may or may not be useful to you, but it's often observed that a good resources page often draws visitors to return to your site. But if they're returning just to click on an item on your resources page, maybe that's not the kind of return visitor you want.
  • Blog: Blogs are a newfangled contraption that's taking the web by a storm. I think their significance is being overblown, but they do offer an interesting model for publishing some information. While your entire site could be a blog, it's not necessary to do so. The blog can serve as a repository of "what's new" type postings or daily observations.
  • What's new: It's helpful to have a running commentary on what's updated or new on your site. The easiest way to implement this is installing a blog as an adjunct to the main web site.
  • Syndication: To syndicate your content is to publish an RSS or Atom file that lists the most recent additions to your site. This allows anybody with an RSS aggregator, including users of sites like technorati or bloglines, to be notified on changes to your site. When your site pops up in their aggregator, they're reminded you exist, and it tends to draw them back to you. One way blogs are helpful is that all the blogging packages export RSS feeds, but it's not just blogging packages that syndicate their content. Most of the "content management systems" also do so.